Written By: Pat Butcher
The tenth anniversary Sahara Marathon was won this morning, Monday, by Jon Salvador of Spain, in a record time of 2.42.40.
Salvador, 43, from the Basque city of Bilbao has run the half-marathon three times here in the past, winning twice, and finishing third. He only decided 10 days ago to return to the event. “I had stopped training for the event, but my local town hall decided to send me ten days ago. I paced one of my colleagues, Teresa Pulido in the Amsterdam Marathon last October, and surprised myself by running 2.32, so I decided to run the full marathon here this time.
“It was very hot at the start, and there were some good Algerians in there, and they went off really fast. But, having run the ‘half’ before, which is the second half of the marathon course, I knew it was more difficult, so I saved myself, and it paid off”.
There was also a record entry of over 800 runners from 28 countries, for the 10th anniversary of this extraordinary event. The race is run through the deserts of western Algeria, between three refugee camps, housing up to 200,000 Saharawi people, exiled from their Western Sahara home since 1975.
Formerly Spanish Sahara, the territory was occupied by Morocco and Mauretania, when the Spanish withdrew on the death of General Franco. A freedom movement by the Frente Polisario drove out the Mauretanians, who eventually went on to recognise the state of Western Sahara. But despite a United Nations resolution in their favour, the Moroccans remain in control of much of the Western Sahara, while an attempt to mount a referendum on the future is in abeyance.
“There are many Basques here,” said Salvador, “around 85 of us. We really understand the suffering that the Saharawi people are going through. Yes, the competition is important, but it’s also important to tell the problems that the people here are having. The two things go together”.
The event is one of the most extraordinary on the planet, being run through the desert between three of the refugee camps in south-western Algeria, which house up to 200,000 Saharawi, refugees, from what was once the Spanish Sahara, but which was occupied by the Moroccans and Mauretanians on the death of General Franco in 1975.
The Mauretanians quickly withdrew